- Established 1982 -

HOME: www.hiltonpond.org

1-31 August 2016

Installment #644---Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

Subscribe for free to our award-winning nature newsletter

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)


you can join us for a warm-weather
Operation RubyThroat
Tropical Hummingbird Expedition to
Costa Rica--
Nov 2016 or
--March 2017

Come be part of a real citizen-science project.
Only three spots left for November!

(Blue-crowned Motmot above right)


August is always one of our busiest months of the year for Hilton Pond Center, primarily because of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. It's the month when we offer our "Hummingbird Mornings" banding demonstrations across the eastern U.S. and host numerous groups at the Center for hummer banding demonstrations. These events occur in August because that's when ruby-throat numbers begin to grow almost exponentially as some local adult males are already preparing to head south, other RTHU are immigrating from elsewhere, and this year's early (and most recent) fledglings are out and about. All this activity--both human and avian--left us little time at the computer for anything but data entry, so this installment is mostly a chronological overview of some Hilton Pond happenings during August.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


We frequently get questions from folks wondering how well Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are doing year-to-year. Well, if it's any indication, just before sunset on the last day of July we banded Hilton Pond Center's 100th Ruby-throated Hummingbird of 2016 (an immature female, above, with faintly streaked throat)--four days earlier than we've ever had that many. Thus, we started August in position to reach excellent annual numbers.

In comparison, by the end of July last year--which ended with our highest total ever (246 RTHU banded--we had caught only 64 new hummers. (We should point out, however, none were captured in July 2015 while the resident bird bander was recuperating from those notorious double knee replacements.)

What's curious about the current year is the relative scarcity of adult males (only 12 through July, compared to a record total of 60 by season's end in 2015), and a below-average 28 females. (Add to that returns of 13 adult males and 24 adult females from previous years.) It may be that good ruby-throat numbers so far in 2016 at the Center are because those adults that are present have had a good breeding season.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Group image above courtesy Liz Schmid


'Way back in 2008, Liz Schmid--owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise in High Point NC--signed up for our Operation RubyThroat expedition to Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. Since then, we've become good friends with Liz and her store has sponsored our "Hummingbird Mornings" events five times--the most recent on 6 August at High Point's Festival Park (above). There, on the banks of Oak Hollow Lake, we offered two 90-minute hummer banding sessions to overflow crowds of 100 people each. (NOTE: If you're interested in sponsoring one of our hummingbird banding demonstrations any time from late July through early September 2017, please send an e-mail to EDUCATION. Proceeds from these events help underwrite Hilton Pond Center's hummingbird research, education, and conservation initiatives.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


House Finches (HOFI) have been especially prolific this spring and early summer around Hilton Pond Center. Winter numbers were down, but what HOFI were here produced a bumper crop of offspring, with first fledglings showing up at our feeders as early as 28 Apr 2016. Youngsters that have flocked in have been remarkably healthy--until 9 August when we caught our first two HOFI with mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (see photo below). This highly contagious disease is caused by a parasitic bacterium that also produces chronic respiratory disease and sinusitis in pigeons and domestic fowl.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis is first noticed in the eyes of birds, where it affects the conjunctiva--the membrane that lines the eyelid and doubles back over the white of the eye. Once infected, the conjunctiva reddens and swells, occasionally causing blindness in the host. Some birds survive the onslaught, while others develop pulmonary problems, weaken, and die.

We have seen the disease most often in winter when House Finches and their relatives come to feeders in great numbers. The denser the population, the greater the opportunity to spread the contagion. With so many young HOFI fledging this year we're not surprised to see conjunctivitis popping up so early in the season. (We speculate nestling House Finches get the disease from parents that may have managed to survive conjunctivitis--only to become carriers of the bacterium.)

One solution to the problem is to stop feeding wild birds for a while, letting them forage on seeds, berries, and insects abundant in nature at this time of year. Another is to double down on feeder cleaning, making sure to sanitize feeders twice a week with a bleach solution. If you get sick finches at your feeding station, you might want to stop using tube-style feeders (right)--at least temporarily. This feeder style requires birds to insert their heads into the tube, brushing their eyes against the circular openings and depositing mycoplasmal bacteria that get spread to the next avian visitor. Taking a hiatus on feeding--no matter what style feeders you use--can result in really sick birds dying out and helps diffuse and diminish the disease.

Eastern House Finches--whose populations literally exploded in the late 1980s before collapsing in the 1990s due to the disease--have begun developing some immunity to mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, so massive epidemics may not occur again. In any case, don't be surprised to see infected HOFI at your feeders this summer, fall, and winter. If you do, please follow the suggestions in the preceding paragraph.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Group photo above © Rachel Davis


On 13 August we were in Fayette County WV for our sixth "Hummingbird Mornings" for the New River Hummingbird Festival (above), held again this year at Honeysuckle Hill Gardens near Oak Hill. Nearly 100 hummingbird enthusiasts came out to learn about our hummingbird research and how to attract hummers to their own backyards.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Hummingbird release photo above © Rachel Davis

Terri Johnson, Master Gardener and owner of Honeysuckle Hill Gardens, offered a tour of the facility and pointed out plants particularly useful to hummingbirds. One of her volunteers, Caylin Atkins (above) of Oak Hill got to hold and release a hummer after banding, exhorting it to fly first to Hilton Pond Center and then to one of our Operation RubyThroat study sites in Central America.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

20-21 AUGUST

The third weekend in August we were busy at Hilton Pond Center hosting two groups for Guided Field Trips and hummingbird banding workshops. On Saturday 16 folks came with Katawba Valley Land Trust from Lancaster SC. Member Doug Barnes shared numerous photos he took, a few of which are included below.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Group photo above © Doug Barnes

During orientation we always talk about the importance of habitat if one wants to attract birds. Of interest is how the 11 acres at Hilton Pond Center have undergone natural succession in 35 years, reverting from grassy farmland to mixed woodland.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

During our banding sessions folks are always interested in the different sizes of bird bands. The photo above shows a 7B lock-on band (for owls and hawks), a 1B band (House Finches), and a much-smaller Ruby-throated Hummingbird band (size X).

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Dollar bill/hummingbird band sheet photo above © Doug Barnes

Doug Barnes thought comparing a sheet of 100 hummingbird bands to a one dollar bill might help explain how small these specialized bands really are. They come photoengraved on a sheet of aluminum so thin the bands can be cut out with a pair of household scissors, after which the quarter-inch long metal strip is formed into a standard round ring.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Banded hummingbird photo above © Doug Barnes

A band on the hummingbird's leg (above) shows how small the band is when applied to the bird. In this photo, the hummer is being lightly restrained in a paper tube to allow for weighing, measuring, and banding.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Ant/hummingbird band photo above © Doug Barnes

Doug's most impressive photo was of a diaper pin (above) on which two hummer bands were stored. The Carpenter Ant that strolled by gave a humorous but very accurate sense of scale that really drives home the minute size of a hummingbird band.

From Barry Beasley, Executive Director, Katawba Valley Land Trust: "I wanted to say thanks for an incredible workshop on Saturday. All the KVLT folks loved it and thought you were fantastic. I think we will have to do it again next year. I will have to say it was more interesting watching my hummingbirds coming to the feeders on Sunday, knowing so much more about them. I spotted a couple of young males."

The following day we hosted another 15 enthusiasts, this time from the Greenville County (SC) Bird Club; they, too, got to watch the hummingbird banding process and to release hummers back into the wild. If you're interested in booking your own visit, Hilton Pond Center is open only by appointment; please see the info under Guided Field Trips. (Trips usually include a bird banding component. Again, per-person fees help support the Center's interconnected education, research, and conservation projects.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Never trust a person to lazy to get up for sunrise or too busy to watch the sunset. --Bill Hilton Jr.

Hilton Pond Center's best sunset so far this summer (above) was on 22 August. Well worth watching, and free to all.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


For the past six years, Hilton Pond Center's automated Personal Weather Station (PWS) has been submitting data electronically to Weather Underground, a widely used commercial source of local weather information. The network includes more than 100,000 PWS reporters, so we were elated when Weather Underground chose to spotlight Hilton Pond and how we use weather data in our natural history research, conservation, and education projects. The full write-up is at Featured PWS Owner.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Charts courtesy Weather Underground

Hilton Pond weather data (above) shared with Weather Underground are collected by a Davis VantageVue station that continuously monitors temperature (including high and low), dew point, wind speed and direction, precipitation rate and accumulation, and atmospheric pressure. Data are uploaded at 60-second intervals via WeatherSnoop for Mac, along with a real-time west-facing Web cam image of Hilton Pond. Weather Underground logs each day's data as they are received and displays everything on a graph that allows for easy interpretation. Our accessible on-line records go back to 28 June 2011, enabling anyone to look for trends in local weather. Add the link above to your browser bookmarks and you'll always know what the weather is doing at Hilton Pond Center!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Seven Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded on 28 August brought the season total to 204 at Hilton Pond Center--just the ninth time to reach 200 in 33 years of research. The earliest we've reached 204 was 9 September last year when we set our local record of 246 RTHU banded.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


We tallied species #62 for Hilton Pond Center's 2016 "Yard List" on the morning of 29 August when a Great Egret sailed in and began stalking fish along the water's edge. As we went out to photograph this uncommon visitor it took off and landed about 35 feet above the pond in a big Loblolly Pine (below); the egret stayed there for several minutes, preening and looking about.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Since 1982 this is one of four white ardeids we've seen locally (the heron/egret family is Ardeidae): Snowy Egret (black bill and yellow feet); Cattle Egret (orangey legs and short pale bill); immature Little Blue Heron (dark legs and dark-tipped bluish bill); and today's Great Egret (black legs and bright yellow bill). On Hilton Pond we've also seen immature and adult White Ibis with their pinkish legs and decurved mandibles, but ibises are in a different family (Threskiornithidae).

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


By day's end on the last day of August 2016 we had banded 210 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, putting us ten days ahead of last year's record-breaking pace. The first two weeks of September always bring lots of RTHU to Hilton Pond Center, so we can't wait to see how our numbers look by the middle of next month. We're guessing that 250 tally is well within reach.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Payable to: funding@hiltonpond.org

Checks can be sent to Hilton Pond Center at:
1432 DeVinney Road
York SC 29745

All contributions are tax-deductible on your
current-year income tax form

See list of recent supporters below

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

Please refer "This Week at Hilton Pond" to others by clicking on this button:

Follow us on Twitter:


Comments or questions about this week's installment? Send an E-mail to INFO. (Be sure to scroll down for a tally of birds banded/recaptured during the period, plus other nature notes.)

Click for York, South Carolina Forecast
Click on image at right for live Web cam of Hilton Pond,
plus daily weather summary

Transmission of weather data from Hilton Pond Center via WeatherSnoop for Mac.

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since
February 2000, or use our on-line
Hilton Pond Search Engine:

For your very own on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond,"
just click on the image above. It's guaranteed fat-free!

Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (funding@hiltonpond.org); credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745).

  • Major sustaining contribution by Dr. V.A. Ram & Girijamma through the Paul Ram CRT Trust
  • Anne C. Dillon (long-time repeat contributor)
  • Liz Schmid (Operation RubyThroat Neotropical alumna) & Wild Birds Unlimited-High Point NC (presentation fee for "Hummingbird Mornings")
  • Katawba Valley Land Trust & Greenville County (SC) Bird Club (Guided Field Trip fees)
  • Quarterly disbursement representing donors who help support the Center through purchases at AmazonSmile
  • Periodic disbursement representing donors who help support the Center through purchases via iGive

If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help support
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

(Just CLICK on a logo below or send a check if you like; see Support for address.)

Make credit card donations
on-line via
Network for Good:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:
If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 2,000+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

1-31 August 2016

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--110

House Finch--2

* = new banded species for 2016

2 species
112 individuals

37 species (35-yr. avg. = 65.2)

1,414 individuals
(35-yr. avg. =

320 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species banded
64,646 individuals banded
5,510 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (4)
07/22/14--3rd year female
05/25/15--after 2nd year female
08/01/15--after 2nd year male
08/27/15--2nd year female

House Finch (1)
08/18/15--2nd year male

--As of 31 Aug Hilton Pond Center's 2016 Yard List stood at 62--about 36% of the 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. New species observed during August: Great Egret & Summer Tanager.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" included a discussion of interesting captures of hummingbirds, finches, and an owl at the Center. It is archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #643.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Please report your spring, summer &
fall sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

Back to "This Week at Hilton Pond" Main

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

The Center's backyard Web cam at Weather Underground

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.